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Xperia 1 review: Sony comes back to lead the pack

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For the first time with three cameras, an extremely elongated display and special functions for budding video professionals, Sony is trying to recover lost ground and start a new era with the Xperia 1. As we find in our review, Sony has gone from playing catch-up to taking the lead.

Sony Xperia 1


  • Excellent workmanship with IP68
  • Up-to-date and tidy software
  • Good camera
  • Great display in cinema format


  • No wireless charging
  • Weaknesses in the bokeh effect
  • Pretty expensive
Sony Xperia 1
Sony Xperia 1
Sony Xperia 1: All deals

Another smartphone reaching the $1,000 mark

Making a movie worthy of Hollywood isn't cheap. Digital cinema cameras usually cost several thousand, if not ten thousand euros. The additional costs for storage media, lenses, additional batteries and the like are far from included here. With the Sony Xperia 1, film students or graduates of film colleges could shoot their first short films at a reasonable price. For a measly 949 Euros you get a smartphone on which almost the entire Sony group, including the professionals of the Cinealta camera line, have worked.

Design: a nice step back

Before we get to the technical features and special features of the new Xperia 1, we'd like to say a few words about the external impression of the Japanese smartphone. After years of dreariness with the Sony design language, the mobile phone division of the Japanese group finally took the step last year towards a new look with more curves and thus improved ergonomics. Unfortunately the Xperias from 2018 gained a lot of weight. The highlight was the Xperia XZ2 Premium, which weighed over 200 grams and was therefore almost too heavy to be operated with one hand.

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Despite the elongated 21:9 format, the Sony Xperia 1 feels pleasantly good in the hand / © NextPit

The Japanese designers gave the Xperia smartphones of 2019 a slimming cure. The Xperia 1 grows in height thanks to the new 21:9 form factor, while at the same time becoming slimmer and losing a lot of weight. All in all, the new design looks like a reminiscence of the OmniBalance design of past Xperia smartphones that has already been adopted. Even the fingerprint sensor moves back into the side frame. Sony fans in the USA don't have to worry that the fingerprint sensor will be deactivated due to patent infringements, as Sony has separated the on/off switch from the biometric sensor as a precaution.

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The fingerprint sensor sits in the frame of the Sony Xperia 1 / © NextPit

This separation is legally understandable, but leads to the fact that the Powerbutton is to be found arg far below. The fingerprint sensor marks the center of the Xperia 1, Sony has placed the switch-off button underneath. This makes the elongated smartphone a little top-heavy when you're looking for the on/off switch. At the bottom, Sony still remains true to its dedicated, two-stage camera release. The construction of Xperia 1, protected against splash water and dust according to IP68, is excellent.

The cinema in your pocket

When it comes to moving image content, Sony is in the fortunate position of having Sony Pictures as your in-house supplier for films and with Bravia, likewise a TV manufacturer. Sony Pictures is incorporating the new 21:9 cinema format into the new Xperia 1, while Sony Bravia is delivering an image processor with the X1 for mobile that optimizes the content for the notch-free 4K-HDR OLED display. A resolution of 3,840 x 1,644 pixels in the hand, no other manufacturer dares to do that except Sony.

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No notch, but with narrow edges above and below the 4K-HDR-OLED display / © NextPit

The Sony Xperia 1's display delivers great, vibrant colors and excellent sharpness. Thanks to OLEDs, the black values are also excellent. The resolution cannot be adjusted manually, Sony automatically adjusts it to the content. That works well, and in fact the Xperia 1 is a real pocket cinema in the test with the 21:9 format. The only small point of criticism: the surface reflects quite strongly, which is why the display should be a bit brighter when the sun or bright light shines on it.

As far as the format is concerned, I agree with my colleague Luca, who quickly made friends with the extra-long screen. The fact that the Xperia 1 is a little narrower than many other smartphones means I can use it more easily with one hand than many other models. The Xperia 1 also sits more firmly in my car mount than many other smartphones. A few millimeters make an enormous difference here!

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Great display in XXL format / © NextPit

Besides videos, I like the 21:9 screen especially when reading texts, because I can wipe back and forth in the lower half of the display with my thumb and still read comfortably at the top without disturbance. In the pocket, the Sony Xperia 1 is a bit long, but for me the advantages of the format clearly outweigh the disadvantages.

Pure Android with the extra portion of Sony

Sony of course ships the Xperia 1 with Android 9 and its own UI. In the recent past, Sony has proven to be fast when it comes to delivering monthly security patches, but also system updates.

As a small innovation, Sony has donated the Game Enhancer to the Xperia 1. With this you can assign various system settings for all games, but also for each individual game. From the number of notifications to the performance level of the hardware, you can adjust the behavior of the Xperia 1 during a game here. It's also nice that you can record yourself on the front camera during an intensive game session and even comment on it. But the competition from Samsung, Huawei, Razer and Asus already offer similar modes on their smartphones.

A touch of Hollywood

More interesting is Cinema Pro. This new app is offered exclusively on the Xperia 1. Sony Mobile's programmers were inspired by the company's Cinealta series cinema camera department during development. If Sony's Cinealta cameras don't tell you anything, it's the name James Cameron. The Oscar-winning Hollywood director of blockbusters such as Avatar and Titanic will be relying on Sony's Cinealta cameras in the future.

Basically the application is a camera app, which is designed for the professional. It offers a different layout than the standard app, so you can see all relevant settings such as shutter, ISO, white balance and even audio levels at a glance. With the help of nine looks planned so far, different moods can be created in the video. One can almost speak of a filter.

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Actually works like a professional camera software / © NextPit

Even if the app already left a round and stable impression during the hands-on, it is by far not finished yet. Unfortunately, there is no possibility to level the sound, and the image stabilization does not work as in the normal camera app. The potential is there, even if only enthusiasts will be more familiar with Camera Pro.

No face recognition

The Sony Xperia 1 lacks a feature that almost all current high-end smartphones have: face recognition. That's a shame, because the OnePlus 7 Pro shows, among other things, that this particularly convenient method of unlocking can also be implemented with a normal front camera and without complex sensors.

Sony of course ships the Xperia 1 with Android 9 and its own UI. More recently, Sony has proven to be quick in delivering monthly security patches and system updates.

As a small innovation, Sony has also added the Game Enhancer to the Xperia X1 and the Xperia 10 and 10 Plus, which we also tested. With it you can assign various system settings for all games, but also for each individual game. From the number of notifications to the performance level of the hardware, you can adjust the behavior of Xperia 1 during a game. It's also nice that you can record yourself on the front camera during an intensive game session and even comment on it. But the competition from Samsung, Huawei, Razer and Asus already offer similar modes on their smartphones.

Full power

In order for the new Sony smartphone to take full advantage of the high-resolution display and triple camera and not constantly operate at its performance limits, the Xperia 1 is equipped with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, one of the most powerful chips on the market. Sony Mobile also provides 6 GB RAM and 128 GB internal memory expandable via MicroSD.

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The Snapdragon 855 works under the hood of the Xperia 1 / © NextPit

The performance in the benchmarks is more than impressive. The Xperia 1 has no problems at all in the performance test to keep up with the competition, on the contrary.

Sony Xperia 1 in benchmark comparison

  Sony Xperia 1 OnePlus 7 Pro Samsung Galaxy S10+
3DMark Sling Shot Extreme 4.456 5.374 4.371
3DMark Sling Shot Volcano 4.256 4.758 4.276
3DMark Sling Shot 5.813 6.958 4.503
3DMark Ice Power Unlimited 63.038 65.808 56.128
Geekbench 4 (Single / Multi Core) 3.424 / 10.836 3.419 / 10.773 4.175 / 10.031
PassMark Memory 31.355 31.375 19.777
PassMark Disc 61.603 69.984 75.870

However, one thing is noticeable: The Sony smartphone gets pretty warm if you demand it properly. This leads to a throttling of the performance, which can be clearly seen especially in graphic benchmarks. In the SlingShot extreme benchmark, for example, the Xperia 1 scored 5,266 points in the first run and only 3,873 points in the third. On average, however, it is still very well there, this small weakness will only be seen with very intensive use in everyday life.

The write and read speeds of the internal memory and RAM are at a very high level. The Xperia 1 also supports LTE CAT 19 with up to 1.2 Gbit/s or 150 Mbit/s for rapid download and upload.

No jack, but Dolby Atmos

When it comes to sound, there is a small drop of bitterness: the jack socket is also history at Sony in 2019, now USB-C and Bluetooth rule the audio world. But everyone should have come to terms with that by now. With Dolby Atmos and integrated stereo speakers, the Xperia 1 has a powerful sound even without a headset. Qualcomms aptX and high-resolution audio with FLAC are also on board. Music lovers will surely be happy with the Xperia 1.

Camera: three focal lengths for one wow

At Sony Mobile, too, the trend is towards "more is more"  when it comes to cameras. The main camera in the middle of the back now consists of three individual 12-megapixel cameras with different focal lengths. With this setup, Sony can give the user a super wide angle of 16mm and f/2.4, a wide angle of 26mm and f/1.6 and a telephoto with dual optical zoom, 52mm focal length and f/2.4 to choose from.

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Three cameras for a beautiful picture / © NextPit

Unlike the Xperia XZ2 Premium, Sony does without a light-sensitive night mode with ISO 51.200, but only provides ISO 3.200 for the Xperia 1. Instead, there is now an eye autofocus known from the alpha camera series next to the well-known PDAF. For portrait shots, such an eye-leaning autofocus is very useful, even if it is always oriented towards one person only. If there are several people in the picture, the Xperia 1 selects the "right" person itself.

The camera is capable of taking ten pictures per second including exposure and focus adjustments as well as super slow motion in Full HD with a maximum of 960 pictures per second. The Xperia 1 takes over funny gadgets such as fading in AR figures and scanning 3D objects from its predecessors.

Very good photos by day, natural pictures by night

Especially in good light, the Sony Xperia 1 with its camera is good compared to the best smartphones. Many details, an excellent sharpness and great colors provide for beautiful pictures. The camera is also really fast and produces hardly any blurred or otherwise unusable photos. At night, other smartphone cameras, especially those of the Huawei P30 Pro, offer technically cleaner images. However, the Xperia 1 manages very well to capture the mood and the light as they actually are, without brightening up the pictures too much. The selfie camera also does a good job.

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Good photos by day / © NextPit
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Natural look at night / © NextPit
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Prestige Selfies. / © NextPit

Sometimes better, sometimes worse the bokeh effect works, which can be switched on with the corresponding symbol in the camera app. Here the Xperia 1 uses the tele-camera, a little more distance to the person or the object in the picture is therefore necessary. If you get close with the normal camera, however, you will already get a slight blur effect through the large aperture, and this looks much more natural than what the Bokeh mode conjures into the picture.

In the camera test of the Xperia 1, we liked the option to select whether the smartphone should correct the slight fisheye perspective directly for wide-angle shots. Although this has a minimal impact on the image detail, it looks much better than without correction.

DSC 0241
Wide-angle shot without ... / © NextPit
DSC 0242
... and with corrected perspective. / © NextPit

The Sony Xperia 1 can record videos in camera test in HD, Full HD with 30 or 60 fps or in 4K with 30 fps. Here, too, the smartphone succeeds in reproducing the lighting situation and colours naturally. The combination of optical and electronic image stabilisation ensures a steady hand, and the Xperia 1 is also excellent for filming while running. Sony has also given the Xperia 1 a special mode for all hobby filmmakers. The app is called Cinema Pro and offers features that are not really necessary for normal use, but which ambitious video fans can use to get even more out of the Xperia 1 camera.

If you want to know more about the camera of the Sony Xperia 1, you should read our detailed camera test and view the test photos in full resolution.

  • All test photos of the Sony Xperia 1 in full resolution

Battery: better than expected

The battery of the Xperia 1 is not excessively large with 3,330 mAh. For this reason, the Japanese manufacturer is somewhat reticent when it comes to statements about the term and prefers not to raise too high expectations. But that's almost a little too much of a caution, because the Sony Xperia 1 cuts a good figure in the battery test. Although the battery in the smartphone first needed three or four full cycles to get going, the Xperia 1 now lasts really long. A display time of a good six hours is the normal case, and that with inserted SIM with radio data transmission, WLAN, Bluetooth and all active services, which run on my Smartphone in such a way. I've seen a lot worse than that. Although the Xperia 1 doesn't come close to extreme long-distance runners like the Huawei P30 Pro in terms of battery, it is also far away from the shortness of breath of the Samsung Galaxy S10.

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Charging only via USB-C, but not wireless. / © NextPit

The battery care possibilities provided by Sony for the Xperia 1 through proper charging are exciting. In the options you can either set a time at which the smartphone should be at 100 percent in the morning, or let the automatic control set it. The latter option works without problems and charges the battery gently overnight. If things have to go fast, the 18-watt power supply can go from 0 to 100 in just over an hour and a half. What a shame: Sony has refrained from giving the Xperia 1 a wireless charge.

Sony Xperia 1 technical specifications

Final verdict

The Sony Xperia 1 is a great and exceptional smartphone. This is not only due to the elongated format, which is not everyone's cup of tea, but offers some practical advantages. It's also not due to the strong performance, the tidy software, the 4K display or the triple camera. Not even the professional video features that most customers don't need anyway. It's plain and simple the whole package that Sony has stoked here. The Xperia 1 has no serious weakness, at least not if you can do without wireless charging and the jack socket. Although, one maybe: the price. It's a bit too high for a smartphone with which you want to find your way back to success. But Sony fans know that from the past.

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Sony looks to the future with three eyes. / © NextPit

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